Chef Brian Zenner is an interesting soul of a chef, and it plays out well on his plates. Born in Thailand, but also lived in Dubai and London, gives this chef a well rounded perspective on how we should be dining. The chef sharpened his skills working in Portland and in Austin before making his way to Dallas where he had a stint at the Mansion on Turtle Creek just before being recruited as Chef de Cuisine at Oak under Jason Maddy. Zenner finally landed his own exec position at Belly and Trumpet. It is at Belly that the man displays his talent, and we are all better for this.
This past weekend Zenner entertained a packed house to a Sea to Table dinner, which consisted of eleven courses, not counting a pastry course by Oak chef Lucia Merino. The night sizzled with excitement as each course was hand delivered; you could hear a strong buzz among the crowd which was suddenly silenced and replaced with the soft clink of forks hitting plates.
What started with a soft soliloquy, our amuse bouche consisted of an elongated potato chip topped with creme fraiche, chive and a dollop of hackleback caviar. As any amuse should, it left you wanting more, but restraint was the theme of the evening as there were many more courses in sight.
We went through an emotional evening of Shigoku oysters, a newish strain from the Pacific which errs on the side of Jerusalem artichoke, briny cucumbers and chestnuts. Served with a Mumm rose, the oyster was clean, and topped with a bit of spinach and breadcrumb. I could have sampled a few dozen of these and been ready to grab my hat, but much more awaited.
Then there was a Peruvian scallop ceviche; a beautiful geoduck dashed with a dashi gelee, black garlic and a horseradish gremolata; a play onclam chowder using fluke as a base; a beautiful riff on a classic Nicoise using a tab of tuna and of anchovy, haricot verts and tomato. Zenner explained he wished to play up the region in which the fish was sourced, thus we had dishes such as the red snapper which smacked of a perfect bite of etoufee, replete with crawfish and crisp bites of rice.
More playful additions were in store, such as a Hawaiian Hamachi bedded with a slice of Spam, roasted pineapple and a sliver of jalapeno, only to remind us of the Islands. You could almost imagine Zenner’s smile as he wrote out this menu.
As we counted down the dishes, we were finally lead back home with an insanely good coconut panna cotta served with a quenelle of passion fruit sorbet.
Each course was carefully paired with a very appropriate libation which included spirits and wines by barman Matt Perry.
As many new restaurants catch our eye it is easy to be caught up in the whimsy of the moment, but we should never forget our tried and true gems that stand directly in the path of delicious.